Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league field manager Eric Wedge returns to Fort Wayne hometown for baseball, leadership

Eric Wedge talks at the Wedge Foundation Leadership Awards luncheon Friday at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Eric Wedge talks with WANE, Ch. 15 before the Wedge Foundation Leadership Awards luncheon Friday at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Eric Wedge, right, talks with Northrop High School baseball coach Matt Brumbaugh, a high school teammate of Wedge's at Northrop, before the Wedge Foundation Leadership Awards luncheon Friday at the ASH Centre. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com),

When Eric Wedge talks about leadership, people listen. Or at least they should.

Wedge, field manager in the minor-league system of the Toronto Blue Jays, made the trip to his hometown of Fort Wayne this week for his annual baseball camp and added a new twist.

He served as the keynote speaker Friday for the Wedge Foundation Leadership Awards luncheon, which included four invited athletes apiece (two boys, two girls) from 14 local high schools. The event was organized by the World Baseball Academy and sponsored by Optimum Performance Sports.

The young athletes got an earful from Wedge about the need to be willing to set themselves apart and lead as they grow into adults.

“It starts with being a good teammate,” Wedge said. “If you can be a good teammate, you have a chance to be a leader. It just takes some guts. You have to go out there, risk a little bit, be unselfish.”

Wedge leads the Blue Jays’ minor league on-field organization, dealing with players and staff. He’ll head to Florida on Feb. 5 for two months of on-location leadership. He spends his summer traveling to various levels of the Blue Jays’ farm system. He’s in his third season with the Blue Jays and second as field coordinator.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Wedge said. “I love our approach. It’s cutting edge. It’s forward-thinking and it’s about leadership and being a good teammate and all that entails.”

Wedge, a Northrop High School alum, is best known in baseball circles for his time managing the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners. During his time with the Indians, he won the American League Manager of the Year award.

While he hasn’t managed since 2013, Wedge still has the drive and desire to return to that role if the opportunity arises.

He interviewed for the then-vacant manager positions with the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers before those spots were filled with the Yankees’ hire of Aaron Boone and the Tigers’ hire of Ron Gardenhire. Boone played for Wedge when Wedge was Indians manager.

Wedge, who turns 50 on Saturday, says he enjoyed the interview process and hopes the right fit eventually comes along.

“I love what I’m doing; I’m in no rush,” Wedge said. “I’m learning every day I’m there. It’s very fulfilling in Toronto. I’m around a lot of smart people who aren’t afraid to take chances and push things forward.”

“I would love to manage one more time,” he said. “We’ll see if the opportunity comes my way. I hope it does.”

A lot has changed over the course of the 14 years Wedge has run a January camp in Fort Wayne. The ASH Centre has undergone a facelift with the addition of OPS, the Mad Ants practice facility and the complete overhaul of the World Baseball Academy fields.

Wedge plans to continue to lead the annual baseball camp as part of the fabric of Fort Wayne.

“I was thinking about that eight-year-old who came that first year and now he or she is just graduating college,” Wedge said. “Talk about making an impact. They were part of our program and it’s part of their DNA. Everything you are is what you’ve experienced and if we could be a small part of that, I’m proud of that.”